Walker Evans Exploring the Southern States

Walker Evans’ studies of Depression era life in the southern states during the 1930s made him one of the most influential American photographers of the twentieth century. Evans had been working as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration since 1935, but in the summer of 1936 he went to Hale County in Alabama, accompanied by the writer James Agee, on assignment to Fortune magazine. On their journey across the barren, poverty-stricken state, Evans and Agee stayed with three separate families whom they interviewed and photographed. Despite Agee writing over 30,000 words, Fortune never printed the story, but the work was finally published as a book in 1941 under the title Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans’ straight, uncompromising photographs and Agee’s vivid, acerbic prose powerfully described the life of impoverished share-croppers two years into President Roosevelt’s famous ‘New Deal’. The book sold slowly, but overtime has become regarded as a controversial masterpiece of both American photography and literature.

Evans photographed the three families that he stayed with, but he also photographed the local towns around Hale County in order to provide context. Marion, the location of this photograph, is a small city slightly to the east of where the host families lived. Evans also took his more famous photograph of the H G Thigpen grocery and hardware store in Marion. One of the oldest cities in the area, the city was a bastion of Southern Confederacy and supposedly the birthplace of the Confederate flag and uniform. The photograph shows one of the main thoroughfares, with a focus on the stripped down, bucket-seat Ford Model T. This was the car that changed the lives of millions of Americans after it was introduced in 1908, but by 1936 eight years had passed since production ceased. Here it takes on the role of worn-out icon, as do Evans’ beaten-up clapboard churches and tired corner shops. This is a rare vintage print from 1936, another version of which is held by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

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